Archived in 2022

Originally posted on 27 Nov 2012

I recently added an audio notification to my email. The intention is to keep me from checking it every couple of minutes. “Did you hear the sound? No? Then you have no new messages. Keep working.”

The sound I selected is a sustained C played on a grand piano. I admit, the sound is ripped off from Garage Band on my MacBook. I did a harddrive search for any wav files and this was among the results. It fit the bill perfectly. Not too long. Not at all jarring. Just a pleasant reminder that—when I have the chance—there’s new email which I might choose to skim.

Today I was in the kitchen making another cup of tea and ended up in a little mental dialog with myself…

“Huh, I haven’t heard the ‘bong’ in a while. I wonder if email is working.”

“It’s not a ‘bong.’ ‘Bong’ is a gong-y type sound. This is a piano. Pianos don’t ‘bong.’”

“OK, if it’s not a ‘bong’ then what would YOU call it?”


Well. That’s certainly a good question. It’s far harder to answer than I’d have expected. How do you describe the sound of a single note from a piano?

It’s not “bong.” Clocks bong (or gong). Meditation bowls bong. Gongs bong (or gong). “Bong” is the sound the Wile E. Coyote makes when he hits a wall. It’s not the sound of a grand piano.

How about “plink?” No no no. “Plink” is a child’s piano. It’s the sound a piece of chalk makes when it hits the ground. There is nothing resonant and calming about a “plink.” A “plink” makes you flinch and look to stop the sound.

“Bing?” Too high. Too sharp. Elevators bing, as do slot and pachinko machines. A “bing” is a lively sound of movement and potential. A single note from a grand piano is a grand and stately thing. A sound to make you pause and think, not a sound to incite you to rush into action.

The grand piano note starts with a sound which is soft but assertive. A labial. ‘P’ is hard and assertive and won’t do at all. The gentler ‘B’ isn’t precisely what I’m looking for but perhaps is as close as my language can get me.

The ‘o’ sound in ‘bong’ and ‘gong’ are too—I don’t know—brassy and gong-y. That whole “back of the throat” vowel sound doesn’t cover it. Aside from sounding entirely wrong it also feels too common for such a sound. I need a much more subtle vowel than that. Something closer to ‘took’ or ‘put. A ‘o͝o’ sort of sound. That’ll do.

At the end of the note it sort of dies away, but not before a denouement. To me that denouement feels distinctly like and ‘ng’ sort of thing. Granted, the ‘n’ is rather subdued but it’s still very important to the resolution of the sound itself. It gently signals the beginning of the end. And, since the note is sustained, the ending ‘g’ must be extended but not in a hard way. It just softly travels through the nose, resonating in the sinuses until it naturally fades away.

So what we end up with is a very poor onomatopoetic approximation of my email notification sound. Everyone together now, in the key of C, intone: